Don’t expect to catch the new James Bond flick in an AMC movie theater once quarantine ends: The world’s largest cinema chain this week swore off Universal Pictures, claiming the studio is dishonoring “longstanding business practices.”
When theaters closed last month amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, rather than postponing the cinematic release of Trolls World Tour, Comcast Corp.’s Universal Pictures instead made it available to rent at home as premium video on demand (PVOD) content. The move paid off, generating nearly $100 million in three weeks—more than Universal collected from the original Trolls (with only $77 million of the total $154 million box office going to the company), according to MarketWatch. It also acted as all the proof needed to justify the studio’s long-term goal of shifting to premium video-on-demand.
“The results for Trolls World Tour have exceeded our expectations and demonstrated the viability of PVOD,” NBCUniversal CEO Jeff Shell told The Wall Street Journal this week. “As soon as theaters reopen, we expect to release movies on both formats.” That comment was not received well at AMC Entertainment, where CEO Adam Aron announced in a scathing letter to Universal Studios that, moving forward, AMC will no longer license Universal movies in any of its 1,000 theaters globally.
“We want to be absolutely clear, so that there is no ambiguity of any kind,” the memo, addressed to studio chairperson Donna Langley, continued. “AMC believes that with this proposed action to go to the home and theaters simultaneously, Universal is breaking the business model and dealings between our two companies. It assumes that we will meekly accept a reshaped view of how studios and exhibitors should interact, with zero concern on Universal’s part as to how its actions affect us.”
Theaters traditionally require a 90-day window between a movie’s cinematic release and digital download. Discussions of different launch agreements have failed in the past, but AMC is still willing to sit down with Universal to hash out a different plan. In the meantime, Aron is sticking to his guns, discontinuing Universal movies in the US, Europe, and the Middle East. “It is disappointing to us,” he said, “but Jeff’s comments as to Universal’s unilateral actions and intentions have left us with no choice.”